Thursday, March 10, 2016

Mary Arniotis, Strong Woman

One of the fun things about my business is that even after 35 years selling maps and prints, I still come across items which I have never seen and which I get to research and learn about. As part of effort to redesign and update our web site, I started going through some nineteenth century posters we had not really researched. One of these had long puzzled me: it is a poster entitled "Miss Arniotis Champion Lutteuse de Monde" and it shows a young lady in tights standing next to a series of images of her wrestling another woman.

The translation is basically that Miss Arniotis was the world champion at wrestling and that 500 francs were offered for anyone who could stay in the ring with her for 15 minutes. What was all this about?

By doing a bit of digging, I was able to find out that Mary Arniotis was a "strong woman" who was appearing on stage in Paris in the mid-1890s, doing a show which showed how strong she was. This included such feats as lifting two men sitting on a barrel with one hand and lifting a table with a man standing on it just using her teeth!

According to the press articles in 1894, "She does not claim to possess any supernatural or otherwise magnetic power, but says she puts her trust solely in her muscle....Her strength is the result of a careful attention to hygienic laws. She has a matchless figure and is the essence of suppleness and very graceful."

Another article noted that "When she appears on the stage any member or members of the audience is at liberty to put her strength to test in any way that he may choose." Turns out this wasn't always the best idea for "She took one luckless youth by the nape of the neck and slammed him into an empty barrel, which she then used as a baseball, scaring the life out of the fellow as she tossed him into the air, all this because the man said he thought she was but a trickster."

Later in the decade, Mary Arniotis, came to the U.S. and appeared in a number of vaudeville shows, but the poster I was researching was from her time in Paris. This poster was to drum up business for her performances, promising 500 Francs to anyone who would stay wrestling her for 15 minutes. Posters, such as this one, were produced in great numbers to be posted in Paris for various events and given their ephemeral intent and the fragility of paper, few of this sort of poster survive to today. I can find no other posters related to Miss Arniotis so I am especially pleased one turned up here and I was able to figure out its fascinating history.